Exhibitors are the biggest source of revenue for your event, but often complain of feeling like second-class citizens. Giving exhibitors premium service will pay dividends in renewals and loyalty. Steal ideas liberally from hospitality and other good service providers.
Three principles of exhibitor service:
- Show you care — interest and empathy go a long way.
- Understand their business and their objectives at your event.
- Listen and respond to their unique needs.
Know your exhibitors’ business
■ If you know what your exhibitors do, you’ll know who they want to meet at your show. You can also offer suggestions for promotions or stand copy. ■ Salespeople should ask detailed questions about exhibitors’ products. Who do they want to meet at the show? What makes this product worthwhile to attendees? Share this info at meetings before the show so everyone knows which attendees can benefit from which exhibitors. ■ Use your status as an expert on your audience to help exhibitors. “Well, most of our attendees are specifiers, so you should focus on…” ■ Suggest customized stand graphics. Exhibitors who sell in many markets can benefit from graphics that address your show’s specific topics. Help exhibitors craft copy that will resonate with attendees at your event. ■ Know what the exhibitor wants from your show. Are they introducing a new product? Is there a big fish they’re hoping to meet? Perhaps they just want to scare their competitors with an overwhelming presence or a giant sponsor banner. You need to ask.
Give your show a face
■ One person should be the image of your event, and should be seen as much as possible — in sessions, on the show floor, at the service desk, etc. Exhibitors like knowing there’s a real person behind the event. ■ If exhibitors have a complaint, show that you’re listening, and planning to act on their ideas, by pulling out a pad and writing down their remarks while they’re still in front of you. Acknowledge their comments by e-mail later. ■ Your staff should be highly visible during setup, show hours and teardown. You need to demonstrate to exhibitors that you’re in this with them. ■ Don’t hide in the show office — especially if things are slow. Go out and “walk into the fire.” ■ Personally thank every exhibitor for their participation.
As stand sales wind down, turn your sales staff into customer care agents. Have them call every exhibitor, asking: “Are you all set for the show? Have you ordered what you need? Do you have a goal for the show? What are you hoping to achieve? Do you have a promotion plan in place?” • Help identify savings for exhibitors. What do they really need in their stand and can they save by ordering early? • Check show directory listings and have a staff member call any exhibitor with missing information. • Ask your official services contractor for a list of exhibitors who haven’t ordered services and call them to determine their needs.
Work the lines. Have show staff out in front directing traffic, helping exhibitors (and, of course, attendees) get in the right lines and answering questions. Be the maitre d’. • Have a basket of hard sweets, fruit or snacks in hand to dole out while people are waiting. It’s hard to be grumpy when someone hands you chocolate. Remember that the guy at the front of the line has been waiting the longest, but the guy at the back is probably crankiest. • Post a VIP exhibitor list behind the counter. Have the reg staff make a special fuss when they arrive, including calling you over to personally welcome them. • Use exhibitor names whenever you can. As you walk an exhibitor to the counter, introduce them to your typist: “Mary, would you please get a tote bag for my friend, Chris?” • Consider printing personalized neck lanyards with each exhibitor’s company name on them: “Expo 2016 Welcomes Acme Machine Company.” You can get custom lanyards in quantities of one, two or more per name for about $1 each.
■ Provide water for exhibitors. Walk up and down the aisles with a cart filled with water and cold drinks. It’ll be a nice surprise, and will give you a chance to chat with each exhibitor. ■ Food is another prized commodity that will delight exhibitors. A giant sub sandwich put out at lunchtime is usually affordable and really wows exhibitors. Not everyone will actually eat, but everyone will hear about it. ■ If you can’t afford to feed people, ask the exhibit hall to open the snack bar during setup. You may have to guarantee the hall a minimum amount of sales, but that’s rarely an issue since exhibitors usually buy enough food for any reasonable minimum. ■ Station a show management staff person at the service desks. That’s where exhibitors with problems, such as missing freight, incomplete orders, etc., will be found. Be there to head it off before it becomes an issue. ■ Tell your show decorator and all vendors that you want to be notified of any serious issues — lost freight, late orders that delay setup, etc. ■ Certain commodities take on extraordinary value on a show floor. Keep some packing tape, Velcro, a knife, a marker and some cleaning or polishing wipes handy for your exhibitors. ■ Don’t just point exhibitors to the service desk. Walk them back there.
During show hours
Treat the show like a cocktail party in your house. You’re the host, and it’s your job to get guests to mingle. • If you see an exhibitor whose stand is slow, grab an attendee in the aisle and make an introduction. • Lone exhibitor working a stand? Volunteer to have someone stand in the stand while they use the restroom or get food. • As the day wears on, walk the aisles with a plate of cookies, or toss some candy bars to exhibitors. It’s a good pick-me-up and a very personal gesture. • Reconsider attendee-only events. Allow exhibitors access to all sessions, and encourage them to attend. • Give lead forms free to exhibitors. It will remind them of key qualifying questions to ask, and it shows them you’re looking out for them. • If you can afford it, consider a fruit basket or cookies delivered to key exhibitors or exhibitor-committee members upon arrival at the hotel.
■ Biggest mistake exhibitors make: Not getting a bill of lading for their outbound freight. Biggest mistake show managers make: Not asking exhibitors if they’ve gotten a bill of lading for their outbound freight. ■ Walk the aisles, talk to exhibitors and see if anyone’s struggling. Look for unlabeled freight. ■ Never leave the hall before the last exhibitor goes home. ■ Post-show, offer to review service bills to check for errors and look for cost-savings for next year.